Jhalda (Purulia), Dec. 17: Suspected Maoists dressed as policemen hunted down seven Forward Bloc activists, including a woman village head, across four Purulia villages and killed them last night in the worst single attack on civilians in Bengal.
The “pre-planned operation” by the gang believed to number around 60 was carried out for over almost four hours from 7.45pm in Purulia’s Jhalda, at the base of the Ayodhya Hills where several Maoist camps have come up in recent months.
Rebels posters left behind next to the bodies suggested the Bloc activists had been targeted as they were suspected to be police informers, and as part of the ruling Left Front, were seen as backers of the wider security forces’ operations against the guerrillas.
“Protest against those with Operation Green Hunt and Left Front and Congress leaders,” one poster said. Another said: “Police torture of the public has to stop, otherwise extreme punishment will be given to Left Front leaders.”
The scale of the offensive and its execution dwarfed the last such slaughter of civilians in West Midnapore’s Nayagram, near the Orissa border, where five of a CPM supporters’ family were slain in September.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose condemned the bloodletting but, for the first time, bracketed the Congress with Trinamul, the party he and his CPM colleagues have often accused of being in league with the Maoists. He made the allegation despite the Purulia posters making it clear that the Congress would be one of the rebel targets.
“Our principal Opposition party, the Trinamul Congress, is colluding with Maoists to unleash terror on us. But sometimes, the Congress is also helping the rebels as they are in league with Trinamul. The Congress and Trinamul have not condemned the killings so far. So we can conclude that both parties maintain a nexus with Maoists,” Bose said. The Left has called a 12-hour bandh in Purulia tomorrow.
Trinamul does not have a strong presence in Purulia, a traditional Bloc bastion where the Congress is the other major political force.
Narahari Mahato, the Bloc’s Purulia MP, also pointed a finger at the Congress. “The Congress and Maoists have joined hands ahead of the Assembly polls to create disruption in this area dominated by the Forward Bloc.”
Bloc ministers Naren De and Paresh Adhikary have rushed to the area along with senior party colleague Debabrata Biswas.
Four of the victims were from a single village, and the remaining three from as many settlements. All the bodies were found on the outskirts of the hamlets. Additional superintendent of police C. Sudhakar said rebel squads from the Ayodhya Hills had carried out the murders. “There is no doubt that Maoists are behind this. No other group or political rival could carry out such planned attacks.”
The first strike took place at Gitalaya village where the rebels dragged out Tapan Singh Sardar, 42, after they couldn’t find his elder brother Chandicharan, chief of the Bloc-run Jhalda panchayat samiti. “ ‘Tell Chandi we are looking for him’, they said. At least three of them (the rebels) were women,” the brothers’ mother Panmoni said.
The rebels then went to the nearby Baghbinda village and took away Kinkar Singh, 26, a Bloc secretary. The Maoists ordered him to identify pradhan Chapala Garai’s house. Once they found her, the 30-year-old homemaker’s hands were tied and she was taken away. The Maoists trussed up her son Bijoy at home and snatched his mobile.
With the captives in tow, the rebels tracked down Gobardhan Singh, a Bloc member for 15 years. “They tied Gobardhan’s hands and took him away. I tried to stop them but they pushed me and bolted the door from outside,” his wife Sundara said.
Eighty-year-old Gopeswar Mahato was also not spared despite his age. The other victims were Arjun Singh Mura, 51, and Ananta Mahato, 36, all led away and shot in a similar manner.